After the Southern Pacific Railroad completed the Coast Line in 1901, making it possible for passengers to travel uninterrupted from Los Angeles to San Francisco, rail excursions became popular. The increased rail traffic, however, necessitated larger facilities in Santa Barbara. When the railroad realigned the local tracks in 1905, it also built a new passenger depot, the fourth to be constructed in the city since 1887, when the railroad first arrived. A local architect, Francis W. Wilson, active here from the 1890s to the early years of the 20th century, was engaged to do the new building. The Mission Revival style was selected so that the depot would “conform in general style to the Mission Architecture so appropriate and so popular in Southern California.” The station was sited to allow passengers and their escorts easy arrival and departure by way of State or Chapala streets. For more than five decades, an attractive lawn area, known as Depot Park, lined the access driveway between the depot and State Street.
In 1998, the state’s most noted restoration architect, Milford Wayne Donaldson, was chosen to perform his craft on the depot, with the result that the Santa Barbara railroad station stands resplendent as a magnificent Mission Revival–style example, as it did in the beginning. The depot had already been declared a City Landmark in 1980, and it remains as one of a very few such railroad stations remaining in California. The landscape was also redone in 1998-1999 by David Black, who, working from old photos, re-created the park opposite the tracks as well as the rock-edged pathway that led from the depot to the Chapala Street entrance of the old Potter Hotel. Thus the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot remains an ideal introduction to the city for rail travelers.
The Native Daughters and Native Sons of the Golden West dedicated a commemorative plaque in December 1999.
Excerpted from Santa Barbara: A Guide to El Pueblo Viejo. Published by the Santa Barbara Conservancy, which advocates for historic, architectural, and cultural resources, and available for sale in stores around town and on sbconservancy.com.